Tourism is on the brink of sinking due to Covid-19. This means the newly-appointed minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture MICHAEL USI has a tough job to steer the sector to safety after the crisis. He speaks to our reporter, YVONNIE SUNDU on the challenges he faces and how he intends to tackle them.
Congratulations on your appointment. Tell us, what are you bringing to the tourism ministry?
Tourism is a broad discipline as we are talking of hotels, monuments, among others as a package. We have to look at what others have done before to build on such achievements and where we believe things have not been done well, we must improve on those. For this to happen, we need to understand what is it that we were selling as a country through domestic and foreign tourism. So what I am bringing is to respond to these questions: what is it that we have? Where is it? How can we add value and market it?
All this is to see Malawi gain from its tourism and culture. We also need to look at the key stakeholders; which offices should be invited to partake in the execution of various action plans in the ministry, among others. Tourism is a discipline that can steer Malawi to prosperity and I am happy to be here.
What has the ministry not done and what plans do you intend to put in place to address existing gaps?
Going through the documents here, I find them comprehensive and informative. But now to implement those action plans is where the problem is. I don’t think as a ministry we should be overdependent on government resources. We should think outside the box; like, where else can we get support? We have the private sector, but what incentive is there for those in the sector to come on board. That to me has not been done sufficiently and there are reasons.
I do not want to blame anybody but simply to find areas that need improvement. There is an issue of priority which is formed by two factors; perception and practice. When government is giving the ministry insufficient funds, it is because there is a perception about the ministry’s way of doing things. We need to unearth facts and realities and then have dialogue with stakeholders so that they come on board. When we talk about practice, we need to be looking at how much value do we get from those funds? Are we able to stand proud to say we have done exceptionally well? Have we marketed our foods, dressing for example to foreigners? We need to challenge ourselves.
What will be your role in promoting local tourism as most Malawians do not visit tourist attraction sites thereby the country, losing out on revenue?
We are what we are because of what we know. If we know, we are better informed to make choices. I know economic stamina is another factor, but we should have more programmes on Malawi radio and television stations talking about places people can visit.
Before we start talking about foreigners, let’s talk of Malawians enjoying what they have. I was thrilled when the other day I watched a programme on MBC TV about Khuluvi site in Nsanje. If that was a package for local tourism, you will see many people going there and some of the revenue will remain there.
Look at our traditional dances if only they were packaged as a product for revenue through a marketing fashion, we could make money from them. Let’s interface with dramatists, musicians for example like Evance Mereka, Lawi and all. They should understand that, their pieces of music are gold and that is revenue. As government, we will have a strategy of promoting such industries.
So how do you intend to find lasting solutions to this challenge?
As it is said, before you ask for a hand, you give a heart. Before you mobilise, you motivate. For the people to contribute, they must be motivated. They must see the value in doing that. Malawians have so many problems and for them to forgo that penny to tourism, there must be a motivation. This is where we need marketing and experts who should show the benefits the people will get. The money being spent, should be ploughed back and then it will become part of our culture.
Lastly, how do you intend to bring the much talked about change and see results?
There has to be a wind of change which is going to shake ministries, departments and every sector to bring change. Those that are going to be irrelevant, they will fall off. Nobody will push them but the wind that is going to blow. There is mess and if you unpack it, you will see horrible things. My job is not to talk about the mess but clean it up and turn the situation so that it is positive. Crying about what happened in the past is not progressive.